A Unique Commitment to Parks and Open Spaces

Boston Common holds a unique place in United States history—as a green space in the very midst of an urban setting—developed through a democratic process. Since 1634, the Common has provided a platform for free speech and public assembly and, since the mid-nineteenth century, the Common and the adjacent Public Garden have been at the forefront of the public parks and the landscape preservation movements in this country. The commitment to the importance of green spaces in Boston received a boost in the late 1980s and continues today.

The Boston Common and
the Public Garden

Soon after the founding of Boston in 1630, the voters of the town agreed to tax themselves to purchase a centrally-located parcel of land for use as a town common. Though town greens, or “commonages,” were standard fare in England at the time of the “Commonwealth,” this was the first such area in the American colonies. Originally conceived as a cow pasture, military training ground, and public punishment site, Boston’s Common evolved over the centuries into a modern public parkland and a setting for a broad range of civic and recreational activities ranging from military ceremonies to opera performances attended by hundreds of thousands of people. As such, the Common has been revered as an almost sacred land parcel and an essential part of both the community landscape and the democratic urban environment.

The innovation begun with the establishment of Boston Common in 1634 and continued with the creation of the America’s first public botanical garden, Boston’s Public Garden, in 1837. While the former was primarily a stage for practical and playful pursuits, the latter was more a floral masterpiece, featuring decorative botanical displays and the famed Swan Boats. These two innovative parklands—and the subsequent design and development of Boston’s Emerald Necklace of parks by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted—played a critical role in the evolution of the Public Parks Movement and the theory and practice of land conservation (including the development of a National Park System) that blossomed in the United States during the last half of the nineteenth century.

The Greening of Boston

Boston continued its deep commitment to its green spaces when its people—including environmental experts, government officials, and neighborhood activists—came together in the late 1980s through a special series called The Carol R. Goldberg Seminars, funded by the Boston Foundation and directed in association with Tufts University’s College of Citizenship and Public Service. The goal was to prompt a green space renaissance in the city, and that is exactly what was achieved. The action agenda created by the seminar participants, called The Greening of Boston, not only played a significant role in revitalizing Boston’s parks, but was used across the country as a blueprint for green space planning years after it was published.



Boston Common holds a unique place in United States history—as a green space in the very midst of an urban setting—developed through a democratic process.